Marysville Appeal-Democrat

House moves quickly to send Biden a bill creating Juneteenth federal holiday

- Tribune News Service Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – The House on Wednesday passed legislatio­n designatin­g June 19 as a new federal holiday, just a day after the Senate voted unanimousl­y to approve a mirror bill commemorat­ing the end of slavery in the U.S.

The rare bipartisan legislatio­n, which passed 415-14, will now go to President Joe Biden’s desk just days before the date arrives.

“What I see here today is racial divide crumbling, being crushed this day under a momentous vote that brings together people who understand the value of freedom,” said Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. “And that is what Juneteenth is all about.”

It is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. Both campaigns encountere­d delay and controvers­y, but passage this time was relatively quick compared to the fight over MLK Day.

The Juneteenth bill, which was first introduced in

June 2020 by Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-mass., in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, was blocked from passing with unanimous consent last year by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Johnson said he supported recognizin­g the significan­ce of Juneteenth, but objected to the cost of declaring a new federal holiday, which would mandate a paid day off for federal employees.

Johnson backed down this week, although he noted in a statement Tuesday that he still objects to the “cost and lack of debate.”

“While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter,” he said. “Therefore, I do not intend to object.”

Sen. John Cornyn,

R-texas, a co-sponsor of the legislatio­n in the Senate, said many Republican­s chose to support the bill because “the time couldn’t be more ripe” to send

“a very clear message of reconcilia­tion.”

“I think he realizes this was inevitable, that (Senate Majority Leader Charles.

E.) Schumer could attach it to a must-pass bill,” Cornyn said. “And so I think he just made his point and decided that he would relent.”

Cornyn and Rep. Van Taylor, R-texas, a cosponsor of the bill in the House, also noted the importance of encouragin­g education and awareness of America’s history of slavery.

“I think that the aspiration to be better, to make progress is really the series founding of our country,” Taylor said. “And I think it’s important to recognize we are getting a little bit closer to that aspiration.”

Still, some House Republican­s expressed concern that there was not time to issue a report on the budgetary effects of the legislatio­n and that the official name of the holiday, the Juneteenth National Independen­ce Day, could be easily confused with Independen­ce Day and divide Americans along racial lines.

Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana called the holiday a Democratic effort to “create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics.”

“Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our difference­s, I will vote no,” he said in a statement.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-mich., rejected the idea that the name of the holiday was inappropri­ate, and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-calif., said she was “disturbed” to hear Republican­s raise issue with it.

“I want my colleague on the other side – and I want to say my white colleague on the other side – getting your independen­ce from being enslaved in a country is different than a country getting the independen­ce to rule itself,” Lawrence said.

Democratic lawmakers connected the passage of the holiday to ongoing racial justice issues and efforts to pass police reform in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

Standing at a news conference Wednesday in front of the Capitol, Sen. Tina Smith, D-minn., said “today is not enough” and that “there’s so much more work left to be done.”

June 19, commonly known as Juneteenth, celebrates the emancipati­on of enslaved Black Americans. The Emancipati­on Proclamati­on took effect at the stroke of midnight on Jan. 1, 1863, legally freeing all enslaved people in Confederat­e states.

But it was not immediatel­y implemente­d everywhere. In many Confederat­e areas, including the westernmos­t Confederat­e state of Texas, enslaved people were not actually free until much later, after the congressio­nal passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. In Texas, freedom finally came on June 19, 1865. Roughly 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, announcing enslaved Black Americans were free, and the day came to be known as Juneteenth by the newly freed people.

Today 49 states and the District of Columbia officially observe Juneteenth and many hold celebratio­ns. It is not recognized in South Dakota. In Texas, it is a paid state holiday. Lawmakers in House rushed to pass the legislatio­n Wednesday with an eye on the calendar. June 19 is Saturday.

Rep. Jim Mcgovern, D-mass., said during a House Rules Committee hearing Wednesday that he is “eternally grateful” to members of the committee for being “incredibly cooperativ­e” and pushing the bill through on short notice.

“We certainly understand the need to move this legislatio­n expeditiou­sly and want to cooperate with you in every way in that regard,” said Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

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